Speaking in Tongues: The Lies/Speaking in Tongues: The Truths (Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh)

Posted: August 13, 2017 in Theatre

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This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

Sometimes known as “glossolalia”, the term “speaking in tongues” relates to the use of words that have no meaning to the speaker. In Andrew Bovell’s two new plays, such words could form lies or they could be part of mindless ritual behaviour, but the proposition is made that ill-considered verbal communications can undermine trust and damage lives.

Staged by Doughnut Productions in the Green, an inflatable igloo on the outer reaches of the Pleasance Courtyard, the production seats the audience on swivel chairs within the circular space, the actors performing all around the circumference and through the middle. The Lies and The Truths are separate (two tickets required), but run consecutively on the same evening, with a 15 minute break between them.

Leon (Phil Aizlewood) is married to Sonja (Kate Austen). Peter (Ben Elder) is married to Jane (Georgina Periam). When Leon meets Jane in a bar and Pete meets Sonja in another bar, their banal conversations are all but identical, spoken over each other to emphasise the point. It is as if both pairs are caught up in unstoppable mating rituals, speaking in universally recognisable clichés, but not pausing to consider what they are saying. It makes little difference that one pair consummates the flirtation and the other does not, because the seeds of doubt have been sown and the corrosion to their marriages has begun.

Bovell’s writing and Kathleen Douglas’ direction are crisp and precise, matched by well-judged performances. The writer dwells on the theme of people drawing in lovers only to reject them instinctively, a trait shown by both women in The Lies and, later, in stories that develop therefrom, by Sara (Periam) who is counselled by Valerie (Austen), herself a borderline sociopath. The Truths centres on Valerie’s mysterious disappearance and police officer Leon’s interrogation of her less then candid husband (Elder). Now the blurring of lines between deceit and honesty takes on darker significance as lack of trust becomes still more pervasive.

More naturally, this work could become a single two-act play. The Lies, running for one hour, just about stands alone, but it contains elements that set up the second play and, therefore, leaves loose ends. Less focussed and 15 minutes shorter, The Truths feels incomplete, tailing off before arriving at the right destination. Overall, the dramas are elevated by the unconventional staging. Confronting each other from the extremes of this confined space, the characters spin a web of unbreakable mistrust that entangles the audience as it tightens around them.

Performance date: 7 August 2017

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